JOANNE MYERS: On behalf of the Carnegie Council I would like to welcome members and guests to our Author in the Afternoon presentation.
We are very pleased to have with us Michael Hirsh to discuss At War with Ourselves: Why America is Squandering Its Chance to Build a Better World.
For most of the period since the end of the Cold War, issues which involved America’s engagement with the world seem to have only been a concern for policymakers. However, with the attacks of September 11th, the need for a new and more inclusive debate which focused on America’s role in the world was brought into focus. This event has given us a powerful new rationale and incentive for engagement and global activism. Now, for the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall, America has both the opportunity and the motivation to try to reshape the world –- but perhaps this time not with military force but with the projection of our cultural values.
In the first few years of this century, vulnerabilities we had not imagined appeared, along with powers we barely knew we possessed. As we struggle to grasp these seeming contradictions, our guest this afternoon would like us to think about just who we are as a nation.
Although the war on terror and its sequel in Iraq serve as a backdrop to Mr. Hirsh’s book At War with Ourselves, it is also an attempt to resolve, to some degree at least, the debate about our global role and what is at stake in it.
Our guest uses personal experiences from his coverage of the first two post-Cold War presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and argues that America has a new role never before played by any nation. “America,” he writes, “is more than a superpower. It is the world’s Uberpower, overseeing the global system from the air, land, sea, and space. This means that there is a unique opportunity to do what no great power in history has ever done before.” He says that “we have the ability to perpetuate indefinitely the global system we have built and to create an international community with American power that will never be challenged.” “The one caveat,” he argues, “is that we cannot do this alone; we do need the international community on our side.”
And he should know this to be so, for as a former foreign editor and chief diplomatic correspondent for Newsweek, Michael Hirsh brings more than a decade of on-the-ground experience in watching the post-Cold War world evolve, crisis by crisis, war by war, decision by decision. As a journalist, he has covered both the political and economic dimensions of this new world, including the wars in Kosovo, Iraq, and the anti-globalization movement.
He is currently a senior editor in the magazine’s Washington Bureau and has appeared numerous times as a commentator on Fox News, CNN, NSNBC, and National Public Radio. In addition to Newsweek, he has also written for Foreign Affairs, Harper’s, and The Washington Monthly.
Our speaker was a co-winner of the Overseas Press Club Award for Best Magazine Reporting from Abroad in 2001 for his prescience in identifying the al-Qaeda threat half a year before September 11th and for Newsweek’s coverage of the war on terror, which also won a National Magazine Award.
MICHAEL HIRSH: The most important and critical war that has been fought since the Cold War ended has not been between the Serbs and the Bosnians, or between the Israelis and the Palestinians, or between the Americans and al-Qaeda or Saddam Hussein; it is the war that is occurring, and has been since the Soviet Union closed for business, among Americans themselves. It is a war among ourselves over what our role should be.
This is mainly the tale that I tell in my book. It is, for the most part, a tale of two presidents. The starkly different approaches that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the first two post-Cold War presidents, brought to this new world were really gigantic fights over these same issues, over America’s place in the world.
The end of the Cold War left a vacuum, and, abruptly, the United States was all but left alone on the global stage. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was only the beginning. It soon became clear that there wasn’t even a competitor on the horizon.
Japan, which you may remember as the Cold War was ending was seen as the putative up-and-coming superpower, quickly fell into a deep recession as its bubble economy imploded. Post-Soviet Russia also imploded into an economy smaller than Portugal’s. Europeans grew even more self-absorbed than Americans traditionally are over their historic experiment in combining monetary union with national sovereignty. China continued to lumber forward, a nation in transition, but it remained a developing country with its future as a superpower supposedly well ahead of it. No one paid much attention to the Arab world.
Suddenly, there seemed to be a blank slate, and both Clinton and Bush had very few limits on what they could do to fill in the blank.
Clinton, who, like Bush, was at first very little concerned with foreign affairs, filled in the blank by promulgating globalization and so-called soft goals, like economic integration and the spread of democracy and open markets. He was known as the “globalization president.” Hamstrung by his draft-dodging past and a conservative Congress that obstructed him, for six of his eight years Clinton shied away from projecting American muscle abroad.
He was a military minimalist, resorting too often to a least-offensive approach that eroded American credibility, even in his own real war, Kosovo. Overseas interventions that might have been successful had they been more robust and involved more troops – Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo in 1998 – mostly failed or became bogged down.
Clinton got away with this half-hearted foreign policy because most Americans saw these issues as mere annoyances -- “small-scale wars in a time of peace,” as David Halberstam has aptly put it.
During his first years in office Bush has made a project of slighting the international system that Clinton inherited and tried to a much greater degree to nurture. Especially after 9/11, unfortunately for America, the tools of that system -- institutions like the UN and the World Trade Organization, and treaties curbing weapons of mass destruction -- did need to be used and strongly supported. Only a united effort by the international community could ensnare all these hostile groups operating within the cracks of the global system. But Bush, as is now well known, surrounded himself with right-wing unilateralists -- or “sovereignists” -- many of whom came into power with a set of pre-fixed beliefs: that America had to remain a place apart, that the demands of other nations and peoples should not infringe on our sacred sovereignty.
September 11th did far too little to alter this ideology, and so right up to the present day what we’ve seen is Bush hesitating to project a common global vision of the civilization he has spoken of defending since 9/11, even though it is desperately needed.
I am not a starry-eyed liberal in my criticisms of Bush. I have no illusions of achieving a Kantian perpetual peace. Perpetuating American dominance is a good policy for the world.
But what Bush failed to realize early on -- and still fails to realize -- is that so much more is needed. And as the reality of this global challenge has dawned on him, Bush too has vacillated, only he has vacillated over how actively he should be involved in the international system, whereas Clinton vacillated over how much to assert America’s hard power.
Together, Bush and Clinton represent two halves of what might have made a very good president, or at least a president who is perfectly suited for managing this vastly complex task of overseeing the global system.
So what is this role? As was just described, America is no longer a mere superpower. We have to discard that term. It’s too much a relic of the bipolar conflict of the Cold War. The President is often still referred to as “the leader of the free world,” as he was during the Cold War. We have to get past that.
The French have called us the “hyperpower,” but that term, being French, perhaps may go by the wayside.
I came up with my own term. The prefix “uber” is in vogue; everyone is described as the “uber-this” and the “uber-that.” So why not call us the Uberpower, which literally renders the idea that America oversees the global system? We militarily have the commanding heights, in the sense that if you look at the campaigns from the first Gulf War on through Kosovo and this last conflict in Iraq, the decisive advantage was from the skies, was remarkable communications between the services, GPS coordination.
But that still leaves the question of: what really is our role? My argument is that our vital national interest is no longer just about picking the right allies or guarding certain sea lanes or preserving our oil supply from the Middle East, as it once was; it is no longer just about building a military and alliance system of the kind that has sustained great powers throughout history.
Projecting U.S. power is necessary, as Bush proved in the war on terror, but leading America today is also about managing full time a global system that is sinewed to our national life through deeper markets than have ever before existed, through stronger international organizations and conventions than have ever existed, and through a truly historic level of global consensus on the general shape of society’s politics, human rights, and international law.
As I explain in great detail in my book, this global system is what we think of as the international community. This continues to be a very controversial concept, particularly in George Bush’s Washington. The right wing still tends to believe that the international community is a Wilsonian myth, an empty catchphrase used by presidents and other political leaders to line up various friendly nations behind their pet policies.
My book is an attempt to put these canards to rest and to make a larger point, that the international community is not only real, but that it is largely our creation as Americans, and has become our greatest ally in the twenty-first century.
Acknowledging this means understanding why America’s traditional posture as an ally in Western Europe and Asia, whether to Britain and Germany or to Japan and South Korea, is being reconstituted into that of regional policeman or stabilizer, why U.S. generals act as virtual viceroys to keep the peace in Latin America and the Persian Gulf, and now in Central/South Asia since the war in Afghanistan; but it is also about understanding how America must systematically use international organizations, like the UN Security Council and the WTO, to co-opt potential hostile nations, like China and Russia, into the U.S.-led international system, especially when at the same time we are asserting our hard power by putting down bases right across the border from them, as we are in so many cases.
It’s about understanding why the UN system, so long demonized in Washington, is critical now to bending other nations to our will and is the most effective proxy, despite all its flaws, for nation-building in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s about understanding why only Washington has the prestige to act as arbitrator in the Middle East and in the now terror-fraught nuclearized conflict between India and Pakistan.
It’s about understanding why only Washington can organize a global halt to nuclear weapons proliferation, now the most critical item on our agenda, or take on a rogue tyrant like Saddam.
But America’s problem -- and the world’s -- today is that we as Americans are not even close to achieving a consensus on these issues. We are still at war with ourselves.
The debates inside the foreign policy community over these issues are at the heart of my book. Indeed, it is well known that for foreign diplomats the new criminology of the post-Cold War period has been about parsing who’s on top and who’s not in the Bush Administration in these never-ending battles between the neo-cons and the Powellites and the remaining realists and the right-wing ideologues.
What is most interesting and disturbing is the extent to which these ongoing fights are still rooted in the Cold War and how little the post-9/11 world has changed that. The neo-conservative vision of regime change, which now dominates the agenda in Washington, is to a startling degree a warmed-over version of Reaganism.
The decisive moment for many of these neo-cons who now rule the roost in D.C. was Reagan’s famous 1982 speech to the British Parliament, when he declared that Marxism and Leninism were “destined for the ash heap of history.” Reagan was, in effect, at that moment, declaring that the goal in the Cold War was victory, regime change, not containment. Until then, managing the Cold War had been mainly about overseeing a status quo of a world half-Communist and half-free.
This has become the core myth of the Bush hegemonists. For those who still wonder at the radical, almost zealous, nature of the Bush foreign policy, it’s important to remember that these guys when they came into power had a historic axe to grind. They had been out of power for twelve very frustrating years, if one counts the first Bush Administration, which to true believers was suspiciously moderate, Clinton-esque, almost turncoat. These new hegemonists also argue that the “Chicken Little moderates,” as one of them referred to them, going back to the 1970s, had consistently underrated the usefulness of U.S. power and overestimated the adverse reaction to it.
Nixon and Kissinger pushed for détente with Moscow until Reagan came in and dubbed the Soviet Union an “Evil Empire,” to much hue and cry from U.S. allies, spent billions more on defense -- and, lo and behold, the U.S.S.R. collapsed.
During the Gulf War, moderates like Powell, burdened by the failures of Vietnam, counseled caution and sanctions. Yet, the war was won, ushering in the “smart bomb era,” and awing the world. The hawks complained that it ended too early, which was another sin blamed on Powell.
Then, in the fall of 2001, this strain of thinking continued. Moderates fretted over attacking Afghanistan-- would it turn into a quagmire; would the Arab street erupt? -- but the Taliban collapsed in eight weeks with nary a peep from the Arab street.
The hardliners also like to point to the ease with which they achieved a key goal, which was the dissolution of the ABM Treaty in the fall of 2002. Again, there was much hue and cry -- this was going to be a disaster, the ABM was the cornerstone of civility between the U.S. and Russia, and therefore the international arms control regimes. The hawks like to stress that there hasn’t been a great deal of reaction.
Another important fulcrum in this renewed Cold War debate was Vietnam. Consider how the debate over the war in Iraq last year took place. It was almost entirely between the draft-dodging neo-cons, or the so-called “chicken hawks,” and now-prominent Vietnam veterans like Colin Powell and Senator Chuck Hagel.
This was another, and less noted, way in which George W. Bush was trying to finish a task left undone by his father. Bush the Senior had crowed after the first Gulf War that “we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.” It didn’t quite turn out that way.
The neo-cons saw this latest war as a way of finally exorcising those ghosts of excessive caution or defeatism that they felt continued to burden the Vietnam generation, represented by people like Powell, and in fact they succeeded.
So where does this never-ending war with ourselves leave us and the rest of the world today?
I’m an optimist in the end, and I’ll tell you why. It’s not because I’m in the news business and everyone knows that our stock in trade is bad news; every journalist has a vested interest in seeing the world fall apart; bad news makes for good stories.
But the prospect of a continuing paycheck is not what makes me an optimist. I believe, as Churchill said, “Americans will always do the right thing, after they have tried all the alternatives first.” That is precisely what is happening in the post-Cold War period. We’ve been trying just about every alternative first. We’re not even close to where we need to be, but we will get there.
I understand where most of the “Bushies,” as we Washington pundits like to call them, are coming from. The aggressive reassertion of American power and will that we’ve seen in the last two years is to a very great extent a reaction to the perceived softness of the Clinton Administration. Donald Rumsfeld came into power believing this. He believed that an image of weakness invites attack. It is true, if you look at bin Laden’s rhetoric in the late-1990s, that Clinton’s sporadic Cruise missile strikes only seemed to encourage bin Laden, who derided the U.S. in his rhetoric as a “paper tiger.”
But we’ve had quite enough reassertion of American power right now, thank you very much. There used to be an old saying in NATO during the Cold War years that it consisted of fifteen chimpanzees and one gorilla, and the gorilla thought he was a chimpanzee. Bush has now made quite clear to the rest of the world that the Americans now know they’re the 800-pound gorilla, and that everyone else knows it too.
But there’s something out there that can undermine the best-laid plans of the biggest gorillas. It’s called the asymmetric threat, and it’s what Americans will be dealing with for decades to come. We had a terrible taste of it on 9/11, and it will remain the principal headache for our children and our grandchildren.
Indeed, the paradox of being the 800-pound gorilla is that we exist on two dimensions: as a nation and as individuals. As a nation, we are the Uberpower, we can oversee global stability; there is no challenger on the horizon. But as individuals, now and as far as I can see into the future, we will need everyone’s help on the ground, where we are as vulnerable and as fragile as anyone else -- indeed, more vulnerable and fragile -- because we are Americans. We have become, just by the nature of being at the center of the world stage, the target of every malcontent’s ire. And because the system that we want to maintain, that has gotten us to this level of prosperity and national success, is one of open borders and trade, that makes us prey to those who want to do us harm.
In our current hubris, we have tended to forget the vulnerability part of this equation. We tend to forget how we felt when we got caught with our pants down two and a half years ago.
Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary-General who was effectively ousted by the United States in the mid-1990s, lashed out at the Americans afterwards, saying: “Like in Roman times, they have no diplomacy. But you don’t need diplomacy if you’re so powerful.”
He was wrong. The lesson of the post-9/11 world is that the victims of terror attacks need diplomacy, our children need diplomacy, and America will not be, in any case, Rome. There has been a false debate in and around Washington about whether America should exercise the power of imperial Rome or Britain. It’s a nonsensical debate.
It is not in America’s national DNA to impose a Pax Romana. It’s noteworthy that even Teddy Roosevelt, who after Reagan is George W. Bush’s favorite president, finally admitted, after some early imperialist leanings, that “Americans lack the stomach for empire.” And he was right.
It’s this paradox of power and vulnerability that we Americans most have to reckon with in the twenty-first century. Today, people who are anti-American don’t just refuse to buy MacDonald’s hamburgers or watch Disney movies anymore. Many of them we now know have a much more lethal reaction to America.
You may have seen the recent Pew Research survey. One of the frightening results was that “the bottom has dropped out of support for the U.S. in the Muslim world.”
Just one example: since last summer, favorable ratings for the U.S. have fallen from 61 percent to 15 percent in Indonesia, and from 71 percent to 38 percent among Muslims in Nigeria. These are both places that are unstable enough to become terrorist harbors in the future.
If there’s anything that most concentrates our mind in the post-9/11 period, that we can most agree on, it’s that we now live in an era when zealots who “value death over life,” as Bush puts it, and who hate America in the international community will only find it easier to obtain and use nuclear weapons.
For many years to come the main threat to America will not be nuclear-tipped ICBMs [Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles] launched from a rogue state that knows it will face massive retaliation; it will be a WMD loaded onto a truck or a boat or a train by a small number of hate-filled, super-empowered people who are not impressed by deterrence theory.
Missile defense will not work here, and even a beefed-up homeland defense is not going to do much. It will improve our ability to defend ourselves only marginally.
Despite all the headlines we’ve been reading, it was this threat that drove the campaign against Saddam Hussein -- not necessarily for the reasons that the Bushies were putting out. The Bush team did believe that Iraq’s attempts to build WMD were proof of the uselessness of arms control, and they wanted to send a message. This was an object lesson in American power.
The Bush team believed in going into war against Iraq that the only way of ridding the world of these threats, since they don’t believe in arms control, was to “devalue” WMD by aggressively taking on states that pursued it. Now, the problems that the Bushies are having now with this policy, as we’ve seen in the headlines, is not just the slightly inconvenient fact that they failed to find WMD in Iraq; it’s that they’re now dithering over how to handle North Korea and Iran and other countries that potentially threaten to develop nukes.
North Korea, for example, is on the verge of producing, and possibly selling across its northern border, a lump of plutonium that could someday come home to roost in an American city. The Administration simply has no policy currently for dealing with this.
The neo-con agenda of regime change is too simplistic, too one-dimensional, to deal with the simple fact that there is a reason why North Korea has stuck around long after Stalinist regimes have collapsed. This is a peculiarly resilient brand of totalitarianism. The regime probably will ultimately collapse, but during that time while we’re waiting for it to collapse, Kim Jong-Il could do a lot of bad things.
We see the Administration practically begging for multilateral help here. This is where we need to bring in a very real way the norms and institutions of the international system.
People have generally failed to note that what gives Bush the legitimacy and support for taking on Iraq and Iran and North Korea is -- in the case of Iraq, UN resolutions saying that he couldn’t develop WMD. If you clear away a lot of the nonsense and trumped-up intelligence and look at the case that Colin Powell presented to the UN on February 5th, his single best case was defiance of UN resolutions. They had them pretty dead to rights. They had some of those NSA intercepts showing that the Iraqis were trying to evade the inspectors.
In the case of Iran and North Korea, what is it that gives us the stamp of legitimacy to say that they cannot have nukes? At the recent G8 Summit, Bush, despite all the bad blood, got an amazing consensus from the other major nations that in fact they would not be allowed to develop them. It’s the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. This is an example of international law at work. And yet, again what you have with this Administration is the refusal to acknowledge the utility of some of these international structures.
Another element that is far too little noted in Washington these days is that the NPT, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, for the most part, works. The Bush people like to point to the rogues that may not be observing the Treaty.
Iran is an interesting example. They may indeed be surreptitiously developing nuclear weapons. But there are about 180 other countries that have signed on to the NPT and that are quite happy to continue not developing nuclear weapons, which are expensive. But they need the diplomatic cover; they need to maintain this grand bargain that the NPT was built on.
There are many other fascinating and indirect ways in which the international system is sustaining us without our even knowing it that I discuss in my book.
Nation-building in places like Afghanistan has become part of our vital national interest. The Bush National Security Strategy itself noted when it came out last September that America is “now threatened more by failing states than by conquering ones.”
The implications of that are that nation-building -- that mushy, Wilsonian idea -- has now become an imperative of real politick. We now need to deal with these nations that we once considered on the margins of the international system. How is that happening?
Donald Rumsfeld has made a couple of speeches recently talking about the wonders of Afghan self-reliance. I went to Afghanistan and investigated quite thoroughly what has been happening there. It’s a very messy situation. It’s not going well. It could do with a lot more money from the United States. To the extent that Afghanistan is being helped kept together, it’s largely the UN and World Bank and other international institutions. This whole idea of self-reliance that Rumsfeld is putting forward is largely a myth.
In the winter of 2001-2002, for example, it was the UN food program that managed to get food to hard-to-reach regions, preventing a famine. It was Lakhdar Brahimi, Kofi Annan’s representative for Afghanistan, who conceived and organized the Bonn Conference for setting up the interim Afghan government. The UN provided the data for the Tokyo Conference of donors. The UN’s Office of Refugees coordinated the return of the Afghan exiles. The UN set up the entire Loya Jirga process by which the Afghan post-war government was developed -- it brought the tent in; it brought food, food tasters; it air lifted some 1,500 delegates from all over Afghanistan to the event and got them home safely.
I challenge any of you to show me any of the headlines in American newspapers about all of these under-the-radar efforts by the UN. Again, we -- this Administration and also we as a country -- are engaged in a unreal debate.
The idea that if the UN didn’t take on Iraq it was about to turn into the League of Nations, which became one of the great sound bites of recent times, was really silly. If you look again at many of the things that the UN is doing in the infrastructure of nation-building, it’s quite remarkable.
What we have seen in recent weeks with the post-war disaster in Iraq is that we will need the UN again. The Bush Administration came in effectively throwing out the nation-building lessons of a decade, all the ways in which we learned about establishing police forces, policing units like carbinieri, in these places. Effectively they decided that you would lop off the Saddam head and this vibrant Iraqi body, the functioning Iraqi state, would remain. This is the way they went into this war. It turned out to be nonsense.
The UN, however, is deeply dysfunctional in many ways. Nonetheless, in an era of vast and growing resentment of the only superpower, and at a time when democratic leadership in most other major nations exists, working to get UN legitimization for many of these efforts is necessary.
It gives foreign leaders the face they need to sign on to UN initiatives. For many foreign leaders, particularly in a democratizing world, getting support for international initiatives is about getting domestic support. In an era when there is so much resentment of America, many of these leaders cannot be seen as signing on to U.S.-led initiatives. It’s quite as simple as that. We need the multilateral cover of the UN.
The breakdown that occurred in the UN Security Council last February was disastrous, but we are already seeing that it was not quite the disaster that it was cracked up to be. Clearly the Security Council is still there, it’s not in a state of rubble, they have reconvened, they came up with a post-war Iraq resolution which even the French signed on to, so it is working to some extent.
So how do we end this war with ourselves, we Americans?
One of the central messages of my book is that Americans have to get their arms around a simple, but stubbornly indigestible fact: we are no longer a nation apart as we have been since 1776. We have to rethink one of our founding myths of American exceptionalism.
The problem is not so much that globalization and the information age have made the world so interconnected; most Americans understand that. What most Americans cannot come to grips with is that this system is their system, that during our rather fitful periods of engagement with the world, the world that the Founders, from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson on, had wanted to keep at arm’s length, has become to a very large extent our world.
For a century now, we have been building this global order without quite comprehending what we were doing -- bit by bit, era by era, all the while listing homeward, like a guest at a party that’s yearning for an excuse to leave politely. What we haven’t realized is the central fact that it’s our party. Every major international institution -- the UN, the World Bank, the IMF, the trade rounds that led to the WTO, NATO -- was literally made in America, and it has occurred in this extraordinary seventy-year ark of activism, dating from Wilson’s efforts at Versailles to the smooth segue from the Cold War overseen by George Bush the First. It is the open byways of this system of international market and trade rules and international standards that are keeping stability.
This global order explains why the worst predictions for the post-Cold War world have not come true. Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” has not happened. Robert Kaplan wrote a now-famous article called “The Coming Anarchy” -- that hasn’t happened either. Despite terror and assorted financial crises and wars and mass slaughters, the post-Cold War system has somehow remained intact. It does so because there simply is no viable alternative agenda.
If I had to point to one most extraordinary fact about the post-Cold War world, it’s that every major power, including even China, has signaled that it is eager to remain part of this U.S.-dominated international system. This nearly global consensus is all but unprecedented. Even Rome had to declare natural boundaries to its empire, boundaries that we know didn’t ultimately hold. But we want to be better than Rome, because Americans can’t afford to be Rome.
Again, this is what our role will be into the future: securing this system. My main criticism of the Bush Administration is that it refuses to acknowledge the reality of this international community, even as the President’s rhetoric, you may have noticed, has painfully headed in this direction, away from Hobbes and back towards Woodrow Wilson. But it is still mostly occurring in a vacuum. Bush talks of building a new world, but in the end the only real building that continues to go on is of the U.S. military.
The latest moves to forge a peace in the Middle East at long last are encouraging. But even now, Bush appears to be taking a “one foot in, one foot out” approach. Was there any good reason why he had to leave the G8 Summit a day early? Was that necessary?
So in the end I am still an optimist. We will end up embracing the international system ultimately. There may be much more potential consensus out there than you would think, between the Left and Right in this country and between America and the rest of the world. The Clintonites veered too far in one direction, in the direction of optimism about globalization and the values of soft power, and the Bush pendulum has swung much too far back in the other direction, toward this idea of walled-off disengagement and the primacy of military power. But eventually the pendulum will come to rest in the middle, as it always does.
One thing is clear: before this can happen, Americans have to end this war with ourselves. We need a consensus in this country that is at least as solid as the Cold War consensus was, as fragile as that often was. And again, we’re not really there.
For Americans the consensus needs to run along the following lines. Our military and economic dominance is a decisive factor and must be maintained, as the U.S. Right believes; but mainly it needs to be the shadow enforcer of this international system that we Americans have done so much to create in the last century in which the Wilsonian Left has to place its trust.
It has been little noted that the chief foreign policy of the Clinton Administration, the one that they hewed to fairly closely during eight years, was democratic enlargement, and that is what it has become for the Bush Administration as well as we’ve moved into the post-9/11 era.
Both sides have to give a little. The Left has to admit the failings of the UN in various ways and the need for hard power. The Right has to admit that the Reaganite myth was always too simplistic.
On that latter point, let me close with an interesting piece of news. An Administration source told me the other day that Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Advisor, like most of the Bushies now, sees regime change as the solution to Iran. But she has this interesting analogy: she compares President Hatami of Iran to Mikhael Gorbachev in the latter years of the Soviet Union. She sees both as transitional leaders overseeing a system that is in a near state of collapse.
But what these neo-Reaganites tend to forget is that their hero, Ronald Reagan, in his second term, did something with Gorbachev that they as yet have failed to do with the Iranians. He negotiated. Like Reagan, his boy ideal Bush has to get to that point. My fear is that it may take for Bush, as for Reagan, a second term. But I do believe we’ll get there.
Thank you very much.
Question & Answer
QUESTION: In the invasion of Iraq, we know that on the wrong side of the track were France, Russia, Germany; and the right side of the track was Spain, etc.
None of those countries were required to seek a vote in their parliaments. But in Turkey, a parliamentary vote was required. That Turkey has been a quintessential ally of the U.S. was totally forgotten. The damage has been done.
MICHAEL HIRSH: Absolutely. We have adopted a policy of intimidation. In the post-9/11 era traditional alliances no longer count for much.
Susan Eisenhower, Ike’s granddaughter, said that what we are seeing is not isolationism because Americans can’t be isolationists anymore -- we haven’t been since Pearl Harbor -- but it’s an isolationist approach to a globalized world. It’s the best the conservative far Right can do. Their impulses are to be isolationist and to not pay attention to traditional alliances.
One of the themes of the Bush Administration is this that this is the first time conservatives were able to come into power and not be encumbered by the Cold War consensus. Even Republican presidents had to sign on to the Cold War consensus. There wasn’t a dramatic change in fifty years.
I could not agree with you more about the mishandling of Turkey. It was absolutely disastrous. One of the truly silliest ironies was to hear someone like Paul Wolfowitz berating the Turkish Government for its lack of cooperation on okaying the presence of U.S. troops, when Wolfowitz is the guy who has been talking about democratic regime change. What he had demonstrably in the debate in Turkey was democracy at work.
Again, with this Administration one of the signal problems is that they do not connect the dots. One of the dots is the fact that Turkey, as an able ally, put down troops in Afghanistan; and another dot was that they were acting democratically. And yet, all the Bush Administration could register was this chagrin at the lack of cooperation. It’s an appalling foreign policy.
QUESTION: I was astonished to hear you say that the prophecies that would happen after the Cold War did not happen and the world is still intact, because since this bipolar world vanished, there are no longer threats of international conflicts the way there were before, but the threat is intranational conflicts that are existing all over the world in the most brutal fashion. It seems to be a much more dangerous and brutal and awful world in many ways since the fall of the Soviet Union.
MICHAEL HIRSH: It depends on where you look. You’ve got to be a little bit nuanced about this.
Africa is a disaster; the AIDS crisis has hurt most and African states are in a state of utter disarray. Clearly, the globalization agenda was not all it was cracked up to be, which is one of my critiques of Clinton. You have some serious problems between rich and poor.
We have a functioning international system, in that every major power -- Germany, Japan, Britain, Russian to a very large extent, even China -- has signed on to the agenda.
One of the most noteworthy stories that didn’t make headlines was that within a week after 9/11, China, after fifteen years of negotiation, finally acceded to the World Trade Organization, which will radically transform China for years to come. If we handle it wisely, it could co-opt them, perhaps permanently, into this international system.
One of the unprecedented things about, for example, the way the global order is organized today is that there is a whole economic dimension organized by the WTO and other institutions like the IMF. If you look at history, every other attempt to organize global order, the Congress of Vienna-type conventions, was always political and military.
My argument in the book is that there is a lot positive that is going on and that the forces of order, despite all the chaos out there, are still more powerful. That explains why we haven’t descended into an even worse disaster than we have.
QUESTION: You speak about Clinton’s vacillation and indecisiveness about using hard power. There was a mood in this country. There was constant talk about body bags: the public didn’t want to see body bags; if they saw body bags it would be a disaster. The military itself was loath to use its power. It’s a little bit harsh to call Clinton a draft dodger when he was opposed to the Vietnam War.
MICHAEL HIRSH: I can argue with you on the issue of vacillation. People from the Clinton Administration admit to me themselves that they could have pushed harder, they could have used special forces in cases when they didn’t.
In October 1998 Milosevic was willing to have NATO peacekeepers in his backyard, which could have prevented the war in Kosovo. Clinton didn’t dare touch it because he was afraid Congress would erupt. It wasn’t entirely his fault, but the problem is that it accentuated his tendency not to want to use military power.
QUESTION: The way the media handled the whole Iraqi crisis was scary. All the White House correspondents are just echoing what is being said from the top. I wonder that the Administration wins the public opinion with questionable arguments, because there is no debate. We know that the best homeland security is a good and generous foreign policy.
Are you the Lone Ranger here now, because you are not one of those? Are you a one-man army? Isn’t there any kind of soul-searching going on within the media? Don’t they have discussions at the National Press Club about their own role in all this?
MICHAEL HIRSH: Yes, but not very much. I agree with you in your assessment of the American media. The coverage of the war and the lead-up to the war was awful. You’d turn on the BBC or Canadian television, and you thought you were hearing news about a completely different war.
I thought it was a tragedy that we got to a point from where we had a global consensus against terror, a remarkable consensus, to where we had, instead of isolating the terrorists, we ourselves were isolated. I thought the media performed abysmally.
Post-9/11, the media utterly suspended what I would consider to be its post-Watergate/Vietnam skepticism. For the whole period from Watergate and Vietnam, any American government official was guilty until proven innocent and was a liar until proven honest. It was quite extreme in the other direction. Clinton caught most of the brunt of that.
9/11 was a shock that reverberated, particularly with the East Coast media. They consider themselves Americans too. They were willing to cut the Bush Administration a lot of slack. It was in that environment that the Bush Administration did this neat segue into Iraq without anyone questioning it too deeply.
The Democrats were completely AWOL. It’s important to remember that to a large extent most of the media are just reporters who report what people say. So if the Democrats aren’t out there speaking, they are not reporting it.
But the other factor that has been powerful in the squeamish coverage of this Administration has been that the Bushies are terrorists when it comes to handling the media. They are incredibly disciplined. They threaten to withhold access. In this age of twenty-four-hour TV news media, when the great “get” has become so important, that access is very important to a lot of big media.
That combination hog-tied the American media. I agree with you.
Every major columnist immediately became a hawk. I’m not so sure that is going to change quickly.
The questions about the credibility and the WMD issue could lead to one of these classic Washington situations where everyone in the media just gloms on, and that could cause the Bushies some trouble.
But another problem is that Bush continues to have very high approval ratings. That has also made some of the media a little leery.
QUESTION: I have not heard anything balanced here. I have heard right wing, I have heard terrorists, I have heard Bushies, I have heard neo-cons, but I’ve never heard any real assessments of the fact that this Administration did come in with a very different view of international relations. It didn’t say it was going to go it alone; it said it was going to try to make the world look at America’s views and American options, international options from a different perspective. And it has done that.
It has not sought to go into these conflicts alone. It has sought to build alliances, and it has done so consistently, with the assistance of people like Tony Blair.
What it is going to do from here on in is something else. We’re not at war with ourselves. Your news media elite is at war with itself and more or less at war with the Bush Administration. That is where the big problem lies.
Diplomats time and again have said, “Yes, this is compelling a reassessment of American and international positions in world affairs.” They have a legitimate way and a legitimate reason to do so.
How would you compare the Clinton and Bush Administrations in terms of various effectiveness in world relations and attempting to achieve what it wants to achieve?
MICHAEL HIRSH: I take a very centrist view in my book, I spend as much time criticizing Clinton as I do Bush, and perhaps here I didn’t exactly measure it.
The Bush Administration has to be given considerable credit for reasserting American deterrence, reasserting power. My only main argument is that that is just too one-dimensional as a foreign policy, given the vastness of the role that we have.
In comparing the two administrations, I found it to be an absolutely fascinating laboratory, because the views that these administrations came into power with almost represent two archetypes, two ends of the political spectrum, that have divided liberals and conservatives or centuries.
The Clintonites were Kantian, Wilsonian liberalists who believed in the international community. The Bush people, people like Cheney and Rumsfeld, have a very Hobbesean view. One of Cheney’s favorite historians, for example, is Victor David Hansen, who writes about the inevitability and the naturalness of war in a very classically realist way.
So you had a clash of world views. My argument again is that yes, the pendulum almost inevitably swung in those two directions. We saw the flaws of Clinton’s approach -- excesses of optimism, rosy-colored view of globalism -- and we’re now seeing the flaws of Bush’s extreme approach in the other direction. We will end up somewhere in the middle where American dominance is reasserted but where we give the rest of the world the kind of multilateral cover that it needs.
Have they made use of the UN? Yes, they have, but it has been painful to watch as they have edged toward it in every case.
On the G8 meeting -- was it necessary to stick a finger in Jacques Chirac’s eye one more time and leave Evian a day early? Those small things count in a big way in the long run.
QUESTION: In saying that the Administration has been going off on its own and stiffing the UN, I’d be interested in an explanation of what I thought was a very intense effort to engage the UN, to get the consensus of the UN to agree with the Administration’s view, from Bush’s September 12th speech until the withdrawal of the resolution by Spain, Britain, and the United States in March.
How will we get the UN on-board with us when a big, wieldy member of the Security Council, France, has made it one of its policy aims to counter the United States when it disagrees with its policies?
And then, lastly, who’s encircling China?
MICHAEL HIRSH: Last thing first. You’ve got Japan on one flank, you’ve got new U.S. bases in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan on the other, you have an increasingly firm relationship between the U.S. and India, and I know from talking to a variety of China experts that there is that strain of thinking among the Chinese Politburo. It’s something we have to handle very carefully. We are not handling it badly right now.
I spend almost an entire chapter tearing down the UN with an effort to try to build up what’s still useful in it.
The Security Council tensions are always going to be there. Even Clinton became extremely leery of using the UN in the end. You may remember that one of the examples that the Bush people like to point to was how Kosovo was handled through NATO and not the UN.
Not true. I covered the Kosovo war in great detail. What happened at the end was that, after seventy-eight days of bombing, Clinton did not want to go in with a ground invasion. Milosevic was still hanging tough. The one key was a diplomatic maneuver to get the Russians to come in, his remaining ally, and pressure him. And how did we get the Russians on-board? There was a new UN resolution that the Russians insisted on, and it was achieved. So even in the case of Kosovo the UN became very useful in the end.
You talk about how impossible, or very difficult, it is to get someone like the French on-board. Do the French have another agenda of creating a multipolar world? Yes, they do. So do the Chinese. But that can be finessed.
We just had a UN Security Council resolution, which was a triumph for this Administration, to effectively get the other UN Security Council members, including France, to legitimize the U.S.-British occupation of Iraq. So it can be done when handled diplomatically.
There were many reasons why the meltdown in February occurred. It doesn’t mean that the UN Security Council and the whole UN process is intrinsically dysfunctional in a way that can’t ever work again. It has just worked.
JOANNE MYERS: Thank you very much for being with us this afternoon.